Palin Energizing Women From All Walks of Life

Sarah Palin, posing with a supporter at a rally in Lebanon, Ohio, has support rooted in conservative women as well as some independents and even Democrats.
Sarah Palin, posing with a supporter at a rally in Lebanon, Ohio, has support rooted in conservative women as well as some independents and even Democrats. (By Stephan Savoia -- Associated Press)
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By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 10, 2008

LEBANON, Ohio, Sept. 9 -- Susie Baron is a Republican, a mother of two and a home-schooler. She voted for Mike Huckabee in the Ohio primary, but now -- because of Sarah Palin -- she thinks she is part of something much bigger.

"I wouldn't even call it a Palin movement, I'd call it a sleeping giant that has been awakened," Baron, 56, said at a rally here Tuesday. She described its members as a silent majority of women in Middle America who "are raising our families, who work if we have to, but love our country and our families first."

"And until now, we haven't had anyone to identify with," Baron said, adding that traditional feminist groups such as the National Organization for Women do "not represent me."

Since her rapid transition from obscure Alaska governor to GOP vice presidential nominee, Palin has reenergized the presidential race and also further polarized it, setting her instant fan base, which sees her as a pit bull with lipstick, against those who dismiss her as just another Republican who happens to be a woman and seems intent on rekindling a culture war.

The crowd that came to see her here Tuesday showed that Palin's support is rooted in conservative women such as Baron, with the addition of some independents and even Democrats -- women who are "fed up with a man's world," as one rally attendee said, and in some cases dispirited by the treatment of Palin and of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primary race.

On the campaign trail, Palin has read the same remarks at each stop from notes or a teleprompter. She has answered no questions, except from People magazine, although she will give her first sit-down interview, to ABC News, this week. But her mere presence has been enough to generate huge enthusiasm.

The McCain and Obama campaigns are rushing to assess what the Palin force will represent. If it is a small but energized group of Republican women, it could have only marginal impact; if it is more, it could tip the balance of the campaign. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Palin has also mobilized liberal women.

"There's no doubt she has helped solidify and energize the right wing of his party," senior Obama adviser Anita Dunn said of Palin and McCain, while acknowledging that Palin has drawn the curiosity of people "who are not movement conservatives."

"She's new, and a good performer of that speech that she reads, but that doesn't necessarily translate into votes eight weeks from now," Dunn said. "Obviously, people are going to be interested, because she's new, but the more you learned about her, the more you see she's like any other politician, male or female."

Other Obama advisers said that once women across the board begin considering Palin's stands on social issues such as human embryonic stem cell research and legalized abortion -- she opposes both -- their interest will fade. That was a line of attack used by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic vice presidential candidate, when he was asked Tuesday whether Palin's election would mean a step forward for women. "Look, I think the issue is: What does Sarah Palin think? What does she believe? I assume she thinks and agrees with the same policies that George Bush and John McCain think," Biden said. "And that's obviously a backward step for women."

The Republican National Committee responded by calling Biden's remarks "appalling and arrogant" and saying they are "better suited for the backrooms of his old boys' club."

"Sarah Palin's nomination as the Republican vice presidential nominee is a historic opportunity to break the highest glass ceiling," RNC spokeswoman Amber Wilkerson said.

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